In the six linked stories of 334, the welfare state MODICUM rules a bureaucratic, technocratic utopia. Nobody lacks food, shelter, or education, and there are numerous technological advances. To maintain these positive aspects, however, MODICUM ignores the personal needs of individuals and is an urban hell for most of the population, powerless people seeking fulfillment, happiness, and freedom.
In the first story, “The Death of Socrates,” young Birdie Ludd can marry his beloved Milly if he raises his Regents (Revised Genetics Testing Act) score to the level allowing procreation. His last chance is to write an essay. As he works on it, he learns about Socrates, ideas, beauty, justice, truth, love, and creativity, thus waking his soul. After the essay receives too few points, however, Birdie kills his feelings and joins the Marines. As the Athenian society killed Socrates, MODICUM kills Birdie.
The title of the second story, “Bodies,” refers to the living dead people like Birdie and to the Bellevue Hospital morgue corpses that Milly’s father, Ab Holt, disposes of, often by illegally selling them to a necrophilia business. Ab is in a quandary when a necrophiliac dismembers the body of a young woman slated for cryogenic freezing and an inquisitive reporter comes calling. Luckily for Ab, a plan comes to him: He will switch bodies.
The third story, “Everyday Life in the Later Roman Empire,” portrays Alexa Miller, a...
(The entire section is 480 words.)